Saturday, November 6, 2010

The Big Lebowski

The Big Lebowski; Comedy grotesque, USA, 1998; D: Joel Coen, S: Jeff Bridges, John Goodman, Julianne Moore, David Huddleston, Steve Buscemi, Tara Reid, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Sam Elliott, Ben Gazzara, Peter Stormare, John Turturro

Los Angeles on the eve of the Gulf War. Jeff Lebowski, called "The Dude", is an unemployed and lazy guy who likes bowling and lives from social welfare. One day, two thugs urinate on his rug in his home demanding money for "Lebowski's wife's debts". It turns out they mistake him for the old wheelchair-bound millionaire Jeffrey Lebowski and his young wife Bunny. After she disappears and Mr. Lebowski receives a ransom note, he presumes she was kidnapped and hires Jeff to exchange the ransom money. However, his militant friend Walter blows the exchange. Bizarrely, it turns out Bunny was just away for a vacation and that the Nihilists who wanted the ransom money never kidnapped her in the first place. Jeff's friend Donny dies from a heart attack.

The 7th feature length film directed by the Coen brothers, comedy of the absurd "The Big Lebowski" subsequently gained cult status and turned into one of their most popular achievements. More often than not, the Coens made movies about camera tricks and not about humans, alas their visual style is once again the strong point (the unusual camera angle that exploits bowling is the one where they placed a camera inside the bowling ball, allowing it to observe how the world outside "rotates" when it is heading down the bowling alley) but the characters are also rather well assembled, especially the absurdly right-wing Walter who is a hilarious parody of director John Milius, wherein John Goodman delivered one of his 2-3 best performances.

However, the Coens' highbrow style doesn't blend in with the lowbrow content of the film, some of which even tends to pass the limits of taste (clips from a porn; Maude hanging half-naked from a swing while painting; swearing; a pointless dream sequence; a pederast bowler called Jesus...), the pseudo-kidnapping story is all over the place while numerous episodic characters are pointless (Maude especially). Still, some jokes are simply terrific. The cut off toe idea is rubbish, but right after it there is a very funny sequence where Walter is talking to Jeff because he (rightfully) thinks that the kidnapping of Lebowski's wife Bunny is fake and that the toe isn't from her: "You want a toe? I can get you a toe, believe me. There are ways, Dude. You don't wanna know about it, believe me. Hell, I can get you a toe by 3 o'clock this afternoon... with nail polish! Those amateurs!" In another sequence, the oblivious Donny shows up in the middle of Walter and Jeff's conversation and wants to know what it's about, upon which Walter asks him: "Were you listening to The Dude's story? " - "No, I was bowling." - "So you have no frame of reference here, Donny. You're like a child who wanders into the middle of a movie and wants to know... "


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